French Health Card

The French health card, the SESAM-Vitale system , is one of the most highly regarded smart card based systems in the European healthcare sector. The system has converted a paper-based claims mechanism into an electronic version that has reportedly improved the time for payment reimbursement from several weeks to several days. The Vitale smart card and associated PIN authenticates all user groups to the system and has allowed the relationship between healthcare professionals, patients and health insurance organisations to be computerised. All claims are submitted by a healthcare professional using the card to identify the individual and assure that the electronic claim is genuine.

A patient’s Vitale smart card is used to identify entitlement and does not include medical data or payment functions. The system makes it easier for users to receive the benefits they are entitled to, rather than proving entitlement on each occasion.

The following types of data are stored on the card for patients:

  • The name and identity of the holder;
  • Health insurance details;
  • Rights to health insurance services;
  • Exemptions from contributions (if appropriate); and
  • Additional insurance cover (if appropriate).

The system is now very mature, being first deployed in 1998, and is available across French health service locations and retail pharmacy outlets. The SESAM-Vitale website reports that there are:

  • More than 48 million Vitale smart cards issued to all insured persons and beneficiaries aged 16 and over, and more than 210,000 to healthcare professionals;
  • 23,000 terminals for updating details on cards and more than 210,000 card readers; and
  • More than 900 million claim reimbursement forms processed per year.

2006 will see the introduction of a new smart card and more online services for users. Further information is available on the SESAM-Vitale website. Information regarding the healthcare professional card is available on the Groupement d'Interet Public Carte de Professionnel de Sante (GIP CPS) website.